Middle school students operate model railroad track
BURNSIDE, Iowa (AP) — A steam engine from generations ago sits idle on a track siding waiting for its next run as a westbound train pulled by two modern diesels rumbles along up on the mainline.
The double-header passes a small village on the turn out of town, then heads off into the distance to deliver its load of cars to their destination somewhere over the horizon.
The crew passes small mountains and streams, crosses a road or two and then there’s that old bridge to slow down for, to keep from getting in trouble with the foreman — Mr. Valentine.
The railroad in question, 1/160 the size of the real thing or N-scale, is housed in Curt Valentine’s Southeast Valley Middle School classroom and the empire builders who run it are student members of the model train club.
The layout came to Valentine already built; it had been in storage for a few years and being complex, needs some TLC to get everything going properly again.
“We’re trying to trouble-shoot and get these things to go,” he said to The Messenger.
The students get to do that.
“I try to get them to figure out how this runs,” he said. “The kids want to see it go through the tunnel.”
The layout was first acquired by Ed Gross, a fellow teacher and model railroader, who worked on it with his dad. Valentine was offered the layout when family circumstances for Gross required it to be removed from their garage.
“He and his dad had gotten it, worked on it and had some great times with it,” he said. “I’d love to have it, yes I would, I told him. I’ve always wanted to share this with my students.”
The layout is wired with a system called block wiring. It’s quite complicated. The back side of the control system looks much like a bowl of multicolored spaghetti.
“This is the creature,” Valentine joked as he closed the hinged panel back up.
Each of the students in club gets to enjoy their favorite aspect of the layout.
Jared Geis, 13, is on his second year as a member.
“I thought it would be fun,” he said. “I’ve learned stuff I never learned before.”
He’s part of a group effort to put a three-stall engine house kit together; so far, they have most of the walls and internal supports done.
He also helped out on the street light project which was not 100 percent successful.
“We had too much juice,” he said. “Blew the whole thing.”
Bryson Axness, 13, might be the club member who figures out all the wiring.
“I like to mess around with all the electronics,” he said.
He’s also part of the roundhouse construction crew.
“Building is really fun,” he said.
He too is a two-year veteran and the train bug has bit him hard enough he’s taken up the hobby outside of school, where he’s working on his own railroad empire.
“I’ve been trying,” he said.
Nykolas Albrecht, 11, joined up for a simple reason.
“My love for trains,” he said.
He loves working with the small details and he’s assigned himself a title — a very important one for keeping things running.
“I’m the head track cleaner,” he said.
Emilie High, 13, is the official “assistant head track cleaner.”
She’s also the railroad’s landscape engineer, gingerly and carefully working to improve the scenery.
“I want to try to get more texture in the grass,” she said. “It’s really cool art stuff.”
Valentine said there are plans in the works to add a feature to the layout found more or less outside the school’s door.
“We have a nice 3-D printer,” he said. “We want to try to print some wind turbines. Actually get them working and power them via a solar cell in the window. We’ll have a little wind farm like we do here.”
One of his goals with the layout and train club is encourage the students to have a hobby.
“A lot of students don’t have one,” he said. “I want them to have the enjoyment of a hobby and the creativity that comes into this.”
There’s also some science, technology and even social studies as the members learn about earlier eras when steam engines were king of the rails.
He’s a strong believer in letting the students learn by doing.
“We know what we’re going to do,” he said. “I turn them loose and have them do it.”
Kaden Holder, 13, was getting to do just that; he was trying to get the last section of the roundhouse’s rear wall glued in place.
“Gluing is the hardest,” he said. “Getting it where it’s supposed to go.”
After he tried a few times, it went together.
“That’s pretty good,” he said.
Information from: The Messenger, http://www.messengernews.net